In March, Faneuil Hall welcomed a culinary celebrity to the neighborhood. New York City’s Magnolia Bakery has set up shop, offering amazing treats like cakes, pies, brownies, and their famous banana pudding.
They have a dessert for just about anyone, and that certainly includes cupcakes. Glorious, delicious, addictive cupcakes. Magnolia’s reputation for these handy little treats is well-known, and has been boosted by mentions on shows like Sex and the City and Saturday Night Live. Their excellence has quickly earned them a loyal following.
It’s a well-earned status. Magnolia uses the highest-quality ingredients possible to create flavors like the Hummingbird (banana, pineapple, and pecan cake with sweet cream cheese icing), and the Devil’s Mocha (devil’s food cake with mocha icing). Everything is kosher, and I mean everything. They even have a rabbi inspect their ingredients and facilities once a month. They also have loads of gluten-free choices.
They may not have been the first cupcake kid on the block, but they certainly are among the best at it.
The idea of small, single-person cakes has been around for quite a while. The first mention of a “light cake to bake in small cups” dates all the way back to 1796, although the name ‘cupcake’ doesn’t show up in a cookbook until 1828. From the very beginning, they’ve enjoyed widespread popularity.
Beyond one-handed eating convenience, a cupcake’s appeal comes from the sheer variety of flavor combinations possible. The magic of baking butter, sugar, eggs, and flour together creates a canvass for bakers to apply a nearly limitless variety of flavors. Magnolia is constantly offering new combinations to try, offering a Cupcake of the Month. This month's flavor is strawberry. Biting into the moist cake made with strawberry puree, the strawberry coulis center oozes out. It’s amazing.
At the new Boston location, they sell hundreds of delectable cupcakes each day. General Manager Sarah Wallace helped open the location, a veteran of not only Magnolia, but bakery par excellence Flour as well. Expertly topping cake after cake as we speak, I ask her for her favorite. “The vanilla-vanilla,” she says with little hesitation. “I love the whole Sex and the City connection. Plus, the buttercream topping is 100% butter. No fillers, no nothing. It’s amazing.” Trying one, I fully concur.
Experiencing cupcake bliss goes beyond simply loading up a box and having the willpower not to tear through them as soon as you leave the shop. Just as important as buying top-quality cupcakes is how they’re treated once you get them home.
High-quality bakers such as Magnolia don’t use preservatives or stabilizers, which does wonders for the flavor and freshness but reduces the treat’s lifespan. Vice president of public relations Sara Gremling encourages people to eat up right away. “Our cupcakes are meant to be enjoyed as soon as you get them,” Gramling says. “Generally they’ll last one or two days after you buy them.”
If you can’t eat your cupcakes right away you can just tuck ‘em into the fridge until needed, right? Absolutely not.
Gramling is adamant about this. “You should NOT refrigerate cupcakes as that can dry them out, but we do recommend wrapping the box in saran wrap if you're not planning on enjoying them right away.”
What was first assumed to be a fad twenty years ago has only grown in popularity. From weddings to office parties to birthdays to a loved one’s lunch box, cupcakes are winning over dessert lovers one frosted treat at a time.
200 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 617-904-1100, magnoliabakery.com
With all the outstanding bakeries available around the metro-Boston area, you’re never far from getting your next fix. If Magnolia’s isn’t in the cards, not to worry. There are plenty of alternatives. Here are a few to try.
South End Buttery
I stop by here every time I’m heading to or from Formaggio Kitchen in the South End. I can’t help myself. Their Madison vanilla cupcake is like a tractor beam. Not a fan of vanilla? Aim for the Harriet carrot cake or Dexter salted caramel. And save room for a blondie as well. You won’t be disappointed.
314 Shawmut Ave., 617-482-1015, southendbuttery.com
Monumental Dessert Bakery
Located at the Jamaica Plain Art Market, Monumental Dessert Bakery offers a rotating selection of imaginative flavors and killer standards like Belgian chocolate and a red velvet cupcake that will knock your socks off. They aren’t open seven days a week, however, so plan accordingly.
36 South St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-1729, monumentalcupcakes.com
Lulu’s Sweet Shoppe
If you can resist cupcakes loaded with Nutella, or pistachio with port wine, or any other of their two dozen flavors, you’re a better person than I am. The coolest part of your visit, however, might just be gawking at all the retro candy available.
28 Parmenter St., Boston, 617-742-0070, lulussweetshoppeboston.com
Good luck picking between lemon-coconut, Boston cream, pumpkin, or any of their other amazing flavors for your next order. Or do as I do - accept that you’re going to order pretty much all of them and get on with it. Feel free to snack on a Black Magic (filled with chocolate pudding and dipped in chocolate ganache) while you’re coming to terms with it.
1884 Centre St., West Roxbury, 617-327-8427, sugarbakery.net
With gluten-free and vegan options, they have something for everyone. Personally, I’m all about the Orange Dreamsicle, baked with orange zest and topped with orange buttercream frosting and an orange slice. Know a chocolate fiend? Grab them a Chocolate Raspberry Surprise, loaded with chocolate-raspberry ganache and raspberry buttercream frosting. With more than a dozen other flavors, it’s worth the trip. If you’re heading south, make sure to pay them a visit.
Locations in Plymouth, Foxboro, Mashpee, and Falmouth, cupcakecharlies.com